MS Scandinavian Star

MS Scandinavian Star, originally named MS Massalia, was a car and passenger ferry built in France in 1971. The ship was set on fire on April 6, 1990, killing 159 people, and the official investigation blamed the fires on a convicted arsonist, who died in the fire.[1] This finding has since been disputed.[2]

Scandinavian Star after the disaster
Name: MS Massalia
Owner: Nouvelle Compagnie de Paquebots (Paquet)
Route: Marseille – Málaga – Casablanca
Builder: Dubigeon-Normandie
Yard number: 124
Launched: 19 January 1971
Completed: 1971
Identification: IMO number: 7048219
Name: MS Stena Baltica
Owner: Stena Cargo Line Ltd
Port of registry: Nassau,  Bahamas
Acquired: 1 October 1983
Fate: Sold
Name: MS Island Fiesta
Owner: Stena Cargo Line Ltd
Port of registry: Nassau,  Bahamas
Acquired: November 1984
Fate: Chartered
Name: MS Scandinavian Star
Operator: Scandinavian World Cruises
Port of registry: Nassau,  Bahamas
Route: St. Petersburg, Florida / Tampa, Florida – Cozumel, Mexico
Acquired: December 1984
Out of service: 1990
Fate: Sold
Name: MS Scandinavian Star
Owner: Vognmandsruten
Operator: DA-NO Linjen
Route: Oslo, Norway – Frederikshavn, Denmark
Acquired: 1990
Name: MS Candi
Owner: Vognmandsruten
Acquired: 1990
Out of service: 1990
Fate: Caught fire; Laid up (1990–1994)
Name: MS Regal Voyager
Owner: International Shipping Partners
Acquired: February 1994
Out of service: 1997
Fate: Sold
Name: MS Regal V
Acquired: 2004
Fate: Scrapped
General characteristics
Tonnage: 10513 GRT
Length: 142.24 m (466.7 ft)
Beam: 22.2 m (73 ft)
Draft: 5.5 m (18 ft)
Installed power: 2 * 16 cylinder Pielstick diesel, 11.770 kW
Speed: 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph)


M/S Massalia was built by Dubigeon-Normandie S.A. in 1971 and delivered to Compagnie de Paquebots who put her on the route MarseilleMálagaCasablanca and also cruises in the Mediterranean Sea.

In 1984 she was owned by a number of companies and named Stena Baltica, Island Fiesta and finally Scandinavian Star, a name given to her by Scandinavian World Cruises who chartered the ship for cruises between St. Petersburg, Florida and Tampa, Florida to Cozumel, Mexico.

The Scandinavian Star had had other fires prior to 1990. During the investigation of the fire, investigators learned that unreported fires had also occurred in 1985, caused by a deep-fryer, and again just days before the 15 March 1988 fire, caused by a broken lubricating pipe.[3] On 15 March 1988, while sailing for SeaEscape on a Caribbean cruise, a fire started in the engine room when the ship was about 50 nautical miles (90 km) northeast of Cancún, Mexico. The ship was carrying 439 passengers and 268 crew members. The ship lost power and the emergency oxygen system malfunctioned, hampering the fire-fighting crew's efforts. The inability of the crew members to communicate effectively with each other and with passengers was a serious concern and created confusion during the fire fighting and evacuation activities.[4]


In 1990, the Scandinavian Star was sold to Vognmandsruten and put into service on DA-NO Linjen's route between Oslo, Norway, and Frederikshavn, Denmark. As the ship had been converted from a casino ship to a passenger ferry, a new crew needed to be trained and were given just ten days to learn new responsibilities. Master mariner Captain Emma Tiller, interviewed for the National Geographic Channel's documentary series Seconds from Disaster, stated that six to eight weeks would be a reasonable period to train a crew for a ship of the Star's size.

The documentary went on to explain that many of the crew could not speak English, Norwegian or Danish, thus further reducing the effectiveness of the response to the emergency. The insurance company Skuld's technical leader, Erik Stein, had inspected the ship shortly before, and had declared the fire preparedness deficient, for among other reasons because of defective fire doors.[5]

During the night of 7 April 1990, at about 2 a.m. local time, fire broke out and was discovered by a passenger and was brought to the attention of the receptionist. The fire spread from deck 3 to 4 stopping at deck 5. As the stairwell and ceilings acted as chimneys for the fire to spread. Although the bulkheads were made of steel structure with asbestos wall boards, a melamine resin laminate was used as a decorative covering and proved extremely flammable in subsequent testing, spreading fire throughout Deck 3. The burning laminates produced toxic hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide gases. The fire then spread to Deck 4 and Deck 5.

When the captain learned of the fire, he attempted to close the bulkhead fire doors on Deck 3. The fire doors were not configured for fully automatic closing and did not respond since emergency alarms near the doors had not been manually triggered by passengers or crew. A vehicle storage area ventilated by large fans to remove exhaust fumes was also located nearby, and the fans pulled air through an improperly secured fire door and caused rapid fire progress from Deck 3 through Deck 4 and Deck 5 via stairways located on either end.

The captain later ordered his crew to turn off the ventilation system when he realized it was feeding the fire, and an unintended result was that smoke was able to enter passenger cabins via the door vents. Some tried to seek refuge from the smoke in areas such as closets and bathrooms or remain asleep in bed, but were eventually overcome by smoke. Those who tried to escape may have variously encountered thick smoke, confusing corridor layouts, and poorly trained crew members.

Investigators proposed several reasons for why many passengers did not safely evacuate:

  1. Many people probably did not hear the alarms due to distance between their cabins and the alarms, and due to ordinary mechanical noise of the ship systems.
  2. Some people probably could not find their way out because of thick smoke obscuring the exit routes and signage.
  3. Burning melamine panels in the hallways produced poisonous hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide, causing rapid unconsciousness and death.
  4. Numerous Portuguese crew members did not speak or understand Norwegian, Danish or English, were unfamiliar with the ship, and had never practiced a fire drill. Only a few crew members even thought to put on breathing masks before entering smoke filled corridors.
  5. On Deck 5, where most passenger deaths occurred, the hallways were arranged in a layout that contained dead-ends and did not otherwise logically lead to emergency exits.

The captain ordered the general alarms to be activated, told everyone to abandon ship, and sent out a mayday request. The captain and crew ultimately abandoned ship before all passengers were evacuated, leaving many still on board the burning ship even after it was towed to the harbor. The ship was towed to Lysekil, Sweden, where the fire department suppressed the fire in ten hours.


The captain of the vessel said that the ferry was carrying 395 passengers and 97 crew the day of the fire[6], it was later determined that 158 people, or approximately one-third of all passengers on board, died on the ship. Another victim died two weeks later from his injuries. 136 of those killed were Norwegian.

As many of the victims remains were damaged by the fire, more than 100 specialists worked to identify all the remains discovered by police technicians, forensic pathologists, and forensic dentists.[7] It was initially reported that many of the bodies found were children but Swedish Police were quoted as stating that children under the age of 7 were not included on passenger lists causing confusion on actual counts.[6]


An Oslo police investigation initially cast suspicion on Erik Mørk Andersen, a Danish truck driver who died in the disaster and who had three previous convictions for arson.[8] A later investigation in 2009 determined that there were several separate fires and that multiple people would have been needed to start them, especially if they were not familiar with the layout of the ship.[2] A 2013 report prepared by a self-appointed Norwegian group called "Stiftelsen Etterforskning Av Mordbrannen Scandinavian Star" ("Foundation for Arson Investigation Scandinavian Star") denied that Anderson was responsible, claiming instead that multiple fires were deliberately set and the truck driver was killed by one of the first two fires (up to nine hours prior to the last fire being started).[8]

The same 2013 report claimed that as many as nine experienced members of the crew, having joined the ship earlier in Tampa, were likely to be responsible for six separate fires on the Scandinavian Star as well as multiple acts of sabotage to both the ship and the fire crew's efforts to put out the fire.[9] The report proposed the motive for the crime was insurance fraud, as the ship was insured for twice its value shortly before the fire broke out. The report claims that multiple people with insider knowledge of the ship were required for events to unfold as they did. This controversial and unproven report led to renewed police interest; and in 2014 the investigation was officially reopened and charges dropped against the deceased suspect Erik Mørk Andersen.[2]

In March 2015 the Parliament of Norway decided to remove the statute of limitations for arson, such that criminal investigation and prosecution remains possible.[10] In February 2016, the retired Danish investigator Flemming Thue Jensen, who had led the post-fire investigation in 1990, claimed that the fire was sabotage and was set by members of the ship's crew; that fire doors had been propped open to allow the fire to spread; and that a third flare-up that occurred after the ship had been evacuated of passengers was caused by crew members soaking mattresses with diesel fuel.[11][12][13]

Changes to the International Code for Fire Safety Systems

The incident raised a number of issues relating to fire protection and evacuation on passenger ships. The International Code for Fire Safety Systems of the International Maritime Organization's International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea was comprehensively amended after the disaster, in 1992.[14]

Salvage and later service

The burnt ship was towed to Copenhagen, Denmark on 18 April 1990, arriving two days later[15] and remaining there for several months. On 11 August 1990 she was towed to the United Kingdom, first arriving at Hull[16] before moving on to Southampton on 10 September, where the vessel was renamed Candi by simply painting over part of the original name.

In February 1994 she was sold at auction to International Shipping Partners.[17] She was renamed Regal Voyager and sent to Italy for rebuilding, then later chartered to Comarit Ferries and put on the route between Tangier and Port Vendres.

In 1997 she was registered to St. Thomas Cruises and put on a route between Port Isabel, Texas and Puerto Cortés, Honduras for Isabel Cortes Ferry Service. Chartered to Ferries del Caribe in 1999, she was put on the route Santo Domingo San Juan, Puerto Rico. The ship was laid up in Charleston, South Carolina in 2003, then sold to Indian shipbreakers in 2004 and renamed as Regal V. She arrived at Alang, Gujarat, India, on 14 May 2004, and the work to get her broken up started five days later.


A few months after the fire, a two day memorial voyage was arranged by a survivors support group, clergymen and psychologists in order to remember the victims and help survivors and family members heal. The voyage was taken by about 300 people, who dropped flowers into the North Sea during a sunset memorial service.[18]

On 7 April 2006, a memorial was inaugurated in Oslo, near the Akershus Fortress. It features a mother with her child and a large commemorative plaque with the names of all the victims of the fire.[19]

In 2015 on the 25th anniversary of the fire, Queen Sonja of Norway, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang, and Denmark's Ambassador to Norway Torben Brylle, paid tribute to the victims and survivors in a waterfront ceremony.[20]

See also


  1. Solheim, T.; Lorentsen, M.; Sundnes, P.K.; Bang, G. & Bremnes, L. (1992): The “Scandinavian Star” ferry disaster 1990 – a challenge to forensic odontology. International Journal of Legal Medicine 104: 339-345.
  2. "Police reopen probe into Scandinavian Star fire". The Local NO. The Local Europe AB. 13 June 2014. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  3. Finefrock, Don (4 October 1988). "NTSB learns of other fire abord ship". UPI Archives. United Press International. UPI. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  4. Kolstad, James (8 August 1989). "Safety Recommendation M-89-054" (PDF). National Transportation Safety Board. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  5. Halskov, Lars. "Manden der ikke ville godkende 'Scandinavian Star'". Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  6. Times, Special to The New York (1990-04-10). "Officials Say Deaths In Danish Ferry Fire Could Rise Past 176". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-09-10.
  7. Jakobsen, J.; Remvig, P. (May 1991). "[Identification of victims after a fire on the ferry "Scandinavian Star"]". Tandlaegebladet. 95 (8): 325–330. ISSN 0039-9353. PMID 1948719.
  8. Scandinavian Star gjennomgang: Mistenkte var død ett døgn før siste brann,; accessed 7 April 2015.(in Norwegian)
  9. Fagfolk: - Mannskap stiftet Scandinavian Star-brann - Scandinavian Star,; accessed 7 April 2015.(in Norwegian)
  10. "Storting, Representantforslag om fjerning av foreldingsfristen for brot på straffelova § 148 første ledd første punktum andre straffalternativ (mordbrannparagrafen)". Stortinget. Sak - Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  11. "After 26 years, new info on fatal Scandinavian Star fire". The Local NO. The Local Europe AB. 22 February 2016. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  12. "Inspektør bryder 26 års tavshed: professionelle stod bag mordbrand". Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  13. "Norsk politi er tavs om beskyldninger fra pensioneret skibsinspektør". Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  14. "History of fire protection requirements". Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  15. "M/S MASSALIA 1971". Retrieved 24 April 2010.
  16. "SCANDINAVIAN STAR". 1990. Retrieved 24 April 2010.
  17. Asklander, Micke. "M/S Massalia" (in Swedish). Retrieved 26 April 2012.
  18. Mellgren, Doug (May 27, 1990). "Scandinavian Star Survivors, Families Make Memorial Voyage". AP NEWS. Retrieved 2019-09-10.
  19. "Scandinavian Star". 13 June 2009. Retrieved 24 April 2010.
  20. Berglund, Nina (April 7, 2015). "Ferry fire victims not forgotten". Retrieved 2019-09-10.
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